Saturday, December 19, 2009

Enlightenment for Westerners

I was raised by parents steeped in the Buddhist tradition, was given a Hindu name, and spent a considerable part of my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood reading about Buddhism, studying it and meditating. More and more, however, I question the Buddhist path for Westerners. The ancient philosophy is impeccable. The traditions extremely close to my heart, but I wonder about what neuroses Westerners are simply perpetuating by taking to the cushion instead of going to their depths. I know for myself that attempting to follow the tradition only increased my neurosis. Letting it go and engaging in depth psychological traditions instead, the path towards individuation instead of enlightenment, has brought me towards growth and peace in a way that attempting to fit myself into a Buddhist box (that feels karmically appropriate but generally confusing) could not. I've given this a lot of thought, more so than I'm expressing in this paragraph, but re-reading Judith Harris's book Jung and Yoga: The psyche-body connection (2001) today, I read again a paragraph that sums-up why Jung's writings resonate in the same way that the Buddha's do, but are overall more fitting for me. In the following quote, she's referring to the necessity to balance the opposites, to tether the sky to the earth, the spirit to the body, the up with the down.
Jung writes in The Visions Seminars that consciousness in the East is already "down," that is, connected to the earth. It is logical, therefore, that in the East the goal is to connect to what is above, thereby compensating what is lacking; a clear awareness of consciousness does not exist in those who live closer to the unconscious. Jung says it is a mistake for those who live in the West to try to get higher and higher, as we are already living on too high a level, yearning only for the spirit world. We must seek rather to establish a relationship to our roots and to the unconscious. He further says that what is really needed is to establish the connection between above and below. This is the task of the yogin in the Western world. (p. 47)
Harris then includes an alchemical drawing depicting this balance, alchemy being the ancient correlate to the search for individuation, the search for making gold out of raw material, pure consciousness out of the muck of the unconscious.

The verse associated with this drawing that Harris includes is: "Connect the earthly toad with the flying eagle and thou shalt understand the secret to our art." (p. 48) This is the alchemical depiction of yin and yang, the balance of energies that every ancient art is seeking to achieve. The depth psychological tradition is no different. For those who are seeking the spiritual heights through the goal of enlightenment, the true antidote may be coming deeper into their bodies, into the unconscious, the feminine, the earthly, and not indulging in the path of spirit at all. I can say this has been true for me, and I don't think I'm the only one.


  1. I think that's a great insight, Satya, that, as a people, Westerners yearn for the spirit world . . and we need to be willing to embrace the deep, the Earth, the dark.

    But I think, today, the leading edge of human development, the world over, is incorporating psychological reclamation, healing, and wholeness along with spiritual growth and transformation.

    It's only very recently (say the last 30 or 35 years) that people engaged in this kind of thing have realized that spiritual work is not psychological work nor vice versa, and that you have to have a well-developed ego in order to do spiritual practice. There is the self (pscychology) and the no-self (spirtuality), and we get a little confused if the no-self isn't grounded in the self.

    But my vote is most definitely for both. It's the latest and greatest in human evolution to attend to them separately and then ultimately combine them. So, why not take advantage of both as appropriate, right?

  2. Satya, I can appreciate your insights in this post on many levels, as a long-time practitioner of yoga, and Buddhism (including a three-month silent retreat in a Buddhist monastery), with a fascination for psychological depth. Are you familiar with the growing appreciation for nondual awareness? The insights of Adyashanti might speak to you.